The Justice Department said on Friday that officials up to Attorney General Eric Holder vetted a decision to search an email account belonging to a Fox News reporter whose report on North Korea prompted a leak investigation. In a statement emailed to Reuters, the department said the search warrant for the reporter's email account followed all laws and policies and won the independent approval of a federal magistrate judge.
We're apparently supposed to feel better about everything because the DOJ "followed all laws and policies" and secured their warrant from a judge. That would be the same warrant that designated journalist James Rosen as a potential "criminal co-conspirator" in order to keep it secret. Details about the breadth of the investigation continue to emerge. Via The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, another eye-opening scoop:
The Obama Administration fought to keep a search warrant for James Rosen’s private e-mail account secret, arguing to a federal judge that the government might need to monitor the account for a lengthy period of time...Ronald C. Machen, Jr., the U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former State Department adviser who allegedly leaked classified information to Rosen, insisted that the reporter should not be notified of the search and seizure of his e-mails, even after a lengthy delay...He argued that disclosure of the search warrant would preclude the government from monitoring the account, should such a step become necessary in the investigation. Machen added that “some investigations are continued for many years because, while the evidence is not yet sufficient to bring charges, it is sufficient to have identified criminal subjects and/or criminal activity serious enough to justify continuation of the investigation.” The new details indicate that the government wanted the option to search Rosen’s e-mails repeatedly if the F.B.I. found further evidence implicating the reporter in what prosecutors argued was a conspiracy to commit espionage...In addition to Rosen’s correspondence with Kim, the government wanted to know about Rosen’s contacts with other government officials, including “records or information relating to the Author’s communication with any other source or potential source of the information disclosed in the Article.”
One stunner after the next. The Justice Department wanted to "repeatedly" monitor Rosen's personal emails for a "lengthy period of time" -- years possibly -- in order to track his "contacts with other government officials" beyond the source at the center of the North Korea leak investigation. In other words, they wanted to troll Rosen's contacts and news-gathering methods indefinitely. And the Attorney General of the United States didn't just sign off of it. He personally "vetted" it. That would seem to preclude relying on the "I don't read my own memos" excuse of which Holder is so fond. Good thing the president has put Eric Holder in charge of investigating the alarming things Eric Holder has done. A final point: Katie raised the possibility that Holder perjured himself during last week's House Judiciary hearing. The Justice Department's admission locks another piece into that puzzle. To review: Holder swore an oath at the beginning of a hearing at which he said he'd *never* been a part of, or even heard of, any *potential* prosecution of a journalist. Now his own department has confirmed that he personally reviewed and approved a warrant that explicitly treated a reporter as a criminal co-conspirator. I'll leave it to the legal experts to determine whether that constitutes perjury, but it certainly looks profoundly dishonest. The Huffington Post (!) called for Holder's ouster this morning, and that was before DOJ confirmed NBC's report. Those calls may grow louder. Enjoy your long weekend, Mr. Attorney General.
Not to fear, America -- she's been placed on "administrative leave," a terribly severe form of discipline that's effectively tantamount to paid vacation. At this week's House Oversight Committee hearing, Lerner (sort of) invoked her fifth amendment rights and refused to answer any questions. She claimed she's done "nothing wrong," which explains why she's reportedly refusing to resign. Question, though: Might Lerner be a relatively innocent patsy in all of this (a la the Benghazi scapegoat)? Er, probably not, via National Review:
A series of letters suggests that senior IRS official Lois Lerner was directly involved in the agency’s targeting of conservative groups as recently as April 2012, more than nine months after she first learned of the activity. Lerner, the director of the IRS exempt organizations office in Washington, D.C., signed cover letters to 15 conservative organizations currently represented by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) between in March and April of 2012. The letters, such as this one sent to the Ohio Liberty Council on March 16, 2012, informed the groups applying for tax-exempt status that the IRS was “unable to make a final determination on your exempt status without additional information,” and included a list of detailed questions of the kind that a Treasury inspector general’s audit found to be inappropriate. Some of the groups to which Lerner sent letters are still awaiting approval. Lerner has denied involvement in the targeting, which she has blamed on a few “front-line people” in the agency’s Cincinnati field office.
More from the ACLJ, which is representing a number of clients who say they were victimized by the IRS targeting scheme:
The timing of her letters coincide with the appearance of former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman before Congress in March 2012 who testified that no such targeting scheme existed. It appears Lerner did nothing to stop the abusive conduct. And our evidence suggests she was actively participating in the improper targeting in March 2012. In fact, she appears to have been quite active with her inquisition. In addition to the letter sent to the Ohio Liberty Council, our records indicate that Lerner sent 14 other letters to 14 of our clients in the March-April 2012 time frame. It's unclear why her name appears on letters to some organizations, and not others. But one thing is clear: this correspondence shows her direct involvement in the scheme. Further, sending a letter from the top person in the IRS Exempt Organizations division to a small Tea Party group also underscores the intimidation used in this targeting ploy.
Time to add another bullet point to the growing list of Lerner's untruths, it would seem. Why isn't this woman out on her ear by now? Simple: She won't step down on her own volition, and federal employees -- especially white collar ones like Lerner -- are exceedingly, almost comically, difficult to fire. Plus, it's no sure bet that Lerner will take responsibility for these letters sent under her name. Eric Holder basically got away with the "there are just so many memos" excuse on Fast & Furious, and Hillary Clinton has attempted a similar maneuver on Benghazi security requests (about which a high-ranking whistle-blower says she was "absolutely" in the loop). And while we're on the subjects of responsibility and disclosure, I still want to know how and why Congress wasn't informed until this week about the IRS' internal probe that confirmed the wrongful targeting practices a full year ago. In any case, Lerner's return trip to Capitol Hill promises to be must-see TV.
While we await that spectacle, I interviewed one of Lerner's former colleagues from the Federal Elections Commission to gain more insight into how she's operated over her lengthy career in government work. (Lerner said this week that she's "very proud" her record). Craig Engle is a prominent Republican-aligned election law attorney in Washington, DC who worked with Lerner in two different capacities at the FEC in the mid-1980's and early 90's. "I'm probably the person in this town who's known Lois the longest, dating back to 1985," he says, tracing their history back to when he briefly worked for her as a young lawyer. After Engle was promoted to chief legal counsel for FEC Commissioner Lee Ann Elliot, his new perch afforded him the opportunity to see and read all of Lerner's memos and recommendations. "What did I see? I saw everything," he says. "I saw everything the commissioners were asked to vote on. How did I feel? I would say that Lois is pro-government. The bigger, the better. The more demanding the regulations, the better. The larger the investigation, the better it is. Anything that would be considered an activist government, that's the Lois Lerner I worked with."
Engle says Lerner saw violations around every corner, even when her legal reasoning was slight. "Under [Lerner], the general counsel's office functioned as a prosecutor. Nine times out of ten, her recommendations were against the respondent. I think she was philosophically opposed to money in politics and was very much a critic of people spending money in political affairs. She could always find a violation -- at least in her opinion, or in her head. In my opinion, her interpretation of the law was sometimes just incorrect." Engle believes Lerner relished her role as a regulator that allowed "government to bestow things on people rather than acknowledging them as equals, based neutrally on the law," he explains. In response to the Weekly Standard's reporting on Lerner's overzealous (and eventually fruitless) FEC investigation into the Christian Coalition, Engle says that episode tracked closely with her general modus operendi. "That was a very long investigation. It was very deep, unnecessary, and frankly, it collapsed under its own weight." His reaction to the recent revelations that conservative Christian groups once again found themselves in the government's crosshairs after Lerner obtained a prominent position at the IRS? "Quite a coincidence, isnt it?"
In spite of his philosophical differences with Lerner and his less-than-glowing reviews of her legal positions, Engle emphasizes that he believes Lerner to be an honest woman who's in over her head. "I think Lois Lerner is an honest person who has made a big mistake, and she may have said some false things in an arena that she didn't think would hold her accountable. She hasn't had a lot of experience in dealing directly with Congress and I'm not sure she understood the ramifications of not testifying fully before them. That lack of familiarity has made her problem a little worse. She doesn't see it," he says, concluding on a sympathetic note. "I feel badly for her. It's painful to be a witness, and it's painful to watch someone you've known for 30 years to go through this."
The State Department spokeswoman who earlier this month found herself in the middle of the controversy surrounding key revisions to the Benghazi talking points appears to be in line for a promotion. The White House announced Thursday that President Barack Obama intends to nominate Victoria Nuland as assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, a position that requires Senate confirmation...Nuland, who has served as the State Department spokesperson from 2011 until earlier this spring, came under fire from Obama administration critics last week after leaked e-mails revealed she raised concerns with the CIA-prepared talking points on the deadly terror attack last September 11. Specifically, Nuland asked that references to al Qaeda and previous CIA warnings about threats posed to U.S. diplomats in Libya be scrubbed from the document that was used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on news talk shows to explain the administration's understanding of events in Libya.
In one email, previously reported by ABC News, Nuland said that including the CIA warnings "could be used by Members [of Congress] to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that? Concerned …" After some changes were made, Nuland was still not satisfied. "These [changes] don't resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership," Nuland wrote.
House Democrats Dismiss Existence Of Obama Scandals
Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday...The law enforcement official said Holder's approval of the Rosen search, in the spring of 2010, came after senior Justice officials concluded there was "probable cause" that Rosen's communications with his source, identified as intelligence analyst Stephen Kim, met the legal burden for such searches. "It was approved at the highest levels-- and I mean the highest," said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that explicitly included Holder.
Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.
Very important question: did Holder or anyone else at DOJ inform the White House of the Rosen warrant?— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) May 23, 2013
"You can’t look at this and see it as anything other than an attempt to basically scare anybody from ever leaking anything every again. So, they want to criminalize journalism, and that’s what it’s coming down to. If you end up essentially criminalizing journalism when it comes to reporting on the federal government, particularly on national security, and the only place they think they technically can do that is on the issue of national security, what it’s going to do is the impact that we’ve heard the council say this over the weekend: It is going to make whistleblowers and people that might leak and regular sources."
President Obama delivered a "major" address on US counter-terrorism policies today at the National Defense University in Washington. It was largely devoid of any real news. The professorial president (a) spoke contemplatively about interest balancing -- some instances of which pose legitimate quandaries -- (b) defended his administration's heavy use of drone strikes as an effective, legal and proportional means of fighting terrorism, and (c) renewed calls to close the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay. As I said, nothing new. The speech was a blend of sound policy, thoughtful analysis, rank hypocrisy, bad ideas and occasional incoherence. It was framed as an attempt to break free from both the Clinton administration's pre-9/11 mentality that left us vulnerable to attack, and the post-9/11 mindset of the Bush administration. Unsurprisingly, Obama touted his abolition of so-called "torture" (without mentioning that some of the now-proscribed harsh measures helped break the mastermind of 9/11 and bring Osama bin Laden to justice). He also vigorously justified using a drone strike to kill Al-Qaeda leader and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. He did not mention the other three Americans that have met the same fate. If Obama hoped his remarks would shift the narrative away from his administration's scandals, I'm skeptical he'll succeed far past tonight's evening news. I more or less agree with this:
This speech will be forgotten in three hours. Distraction over.— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) May 23, 2013
This would be an A-list political story if it weren't buried beneath the avalanche of scandal that's consumed the nation's attention and undermined the president's approval ratings in recent weeks. We reported on Monday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is maneuvering to execute the so-called "nuclear option" on filibusters of executive appointments, perhaps as soon as July. Since the game plan was initially sketched out by a liberal blogger in the Washington Post (who also confirmed that the White House has bestowed its blessing on the power grab), more circumstantial evidence has emerged that appears to confirm Reid's intentions:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he will delay votes on several of President Obama’s nominees for key posts until July, a decision raising the prospect that he’ll seek further changes to Senate rules that would allow executive appointments to be confirmed by a simple majority. Senate leaders had considered holding a vote this week to confirm Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a nomination Republicans have maintained they would filibuster unless the Obama administration agreed to overhaul the agency. Action is also pending on two of Obama’s Cabinet nominations — Thomas E. Perez for Labor secretary and Gina McCarthy for EPA administrator — after party-line votes in Senate committees last week. Two other Cabinet picks face confirmation hearings later this week. At his weekly news conference, Reid told reporters that he would not bring those nominations to the full Senate until after it considers two major pieces of legislation, the farm bill and comprehensive immigration reform. “So we'll have to look at July,” he said, with the possible exception of a pending nominee for the D.C. Court of Appeals. “We're going to make sure that all the nominees have votes.”
Senate Democrats may be itching to hit the nuclear trigger more than ever in light of two federal courts' repudiations of the president's unconstitutional "recess" appointments made while Congress was not technically in recess. Regardless of their motives, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is already warning Reid that any further action to curtail the rights of the minority would effectively "blow up" the institution of the Senate. In a floor speech this morning, McConnell tied Democrats' potential filibuster power grab to the federal government's "culture of intimidation" playing out in living color at the IRS, HHS, and DOJ:
“For example, Senate Democrats were incensed that Republicans had the temerity to exercise their Advice and Consent responsibility to block a grand total of one — that’s right, one — nominee to the D.C. Circuit. What did our Democrat colleagues do in response? They consulted with the White House and pledged to pack the D.C. Circuit with appointees, quote, ‘one way or the other’ — meaning using the nuclear option...
The Senate has confirmed 19 of the President’s judicial nominees so far this year. By this point in his second term, President Bush had a grand total of four judicial confirmations.
Moreover, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee just voted unanimously to support the President’s current nomination to the D.C. Circuit. And the Senate Republican Conference agreed yesterday to hold an up and down vote on his nomination, which has only been on the Executive Calendar since Monday, to occur after the Memorial Day Recess. That way, Members who do not serve on the Judiciary Committee could have a week to evaluate this important nomination. Instead, the Majority Leader chose to jam the Minority—he rejected our offer for an up or down vote and filed cloture on the nomination just one day after it appeared on the Executive Calendar...
And regarding nominees generally, Senate Republicans have been willing to work with the President to get his team in place:
The Secretary of Energy was confirmed 97 to 0.
The Secretary of the Interior was confirmed 87 to 11.
The Secretary of the Treasury was confirmed 71 to 26.
The Director of the [OMB] was confirmed 96 to 0.
And the Secretary of State was confirmed 94 to 3—just 7 days after the Senate received his nomination. So these continued threats to use the nuclear option point to the Majority’s own culture of intimidation here in the Senate. Their view is that you had better confirm the people we want, when we want them, or we’ll break the rules of the Senate to change the rules so you can’t stop us. So much for respecting the rights of the minority. So much for a meaningful application of Advice and Consent."
- The president's job approval rating has dipped underwater at 45/51, an eight-point negative swing since last month. He's at 40/52 among independents.
- Attorney General Eric Holder's job approval has plummeted to 28/40 with approximately a third of voters not knowing enough to answer. This may fuel whispers that Holder may be on his way out.
- Obama's trustworthiness quotient is now split evenly, down from positive territory in the months leading up to the election.
- A whopping 68 percent of Americans believe the federal government is "out of control" and threatening basic liberties. Republicans ought to concentrate on articulating an agenda that speaks to that widespread disaffection.
- More Americans label Obama a "lame duck" president than say he's still effective.
The poll asks a few questions about the scandals themselves, which yielded results not too dissimilar from the WaPo and CNN findings we've highlighted this week. In short, people are concerned, think the stories are legitimate, and want to know more. Fox just released a second tranche of data, which also features some interesting nuggets. On gay marriage, a clear majority (41/52) opposes amending the Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman, down from (58/34) in favor ten years ago. And as much as the trio of current scandals may be weighing down Obama's numbers, there's another big wet blanket draped over his presidency:
22. Do you think it would be better to leave the new health care law in place, or would it bebetter to go back to the health care system that was in place in 2009?
Better to keep law: 34 percent
Better to go back to previous system: 56 percent
Fox's 34 percent support level is nearly identical to Kaiser's figure we reported in April. In the new poll, Obamacare is upside down by double digits on this question among men, women, voters of every age group, Republicans and independents. Only Democrats and non-whites say they prefer the new law to the previous system. By a two-to-one margin, Americans say their families will be worse off under the "Affordable Care Act" than prior to its passage. So much for the president's assurances that the law's roll-out is already over for 90 percent of Americans, who should already be "enjoying" its benefits. Obamacare is toxic, and it's likely to get worse as the logistical "train wreck" of implementation plays out, premiums continue to rise, costs explode, and the tainted IRS kicks off enforcement of the hyper-unpopular mandate tax. It could be that the health law is hurting the president just as much as any of the scandals. John Nolte notes that the president's job approval has sunk below the 50 percent mark in four new surveys, including this one. I'll leave you with one of Philip Klein's five reasons why Obama's scandals aren't prone to backfire on Republicans like Bill Clinton's impeachment saga did:
Clinton’s scandal involved sex - Without re-litigating the entire impeachment debate, it’s fair to say that Clinton’s scandal revolved around his sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. This made it a lot easier for Clinton to appeal to Americans’ sense of forgiveness and portray political opponents as prying into his personal life as opposed to dealing with the nation’s problems. In contrast, though both sides debate Obama’s culpability, the issues at the heart of the current scandals are all very serious — dealing with a terrorist attack on a U.S. ambassador, IRS targeting ideological groups of a certain stripe and the Department of Justice spying on journalists. According to a CNN poll released Sunday, “Americans appear to be taking all three controversies very seriously, with 55% saying the IRS and Benghazi matters are very important to the nation and 53% saying the same thing about the AP case.” So, it’s harder to put Republicans on the defensive for investigating these issues than it was to attack the 1998 GOP for expending so much effort investigating Clinton for lying about oral sex.
Click through for the other four. I wonder how the public's opinion on Benghazi might be impacted by this story, which we mentioned on Tuesday but hasn't quite broken through yet -- particularly in light of this data point from the administration.
According to Finney, the fact that Mitt Romney didn't make a huge deal out of the IRS targeting scandal last year is somehow proof that the whole thing is essentially a non-story and wasn't buried until after the election. Where to begin? As a fellow panelist incredulously points out, the revelation of IRS abuse wasn't public knowledge in 2012. It just came out this month. Sure, everyone knew that Congress was demanding answers from the IRS about alleged targeting practices, but there was no public evidence that the victimized groups' suspicions were well-founded. IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman even told Congress under oath that political targeting was "absolutely not" transpiring. That was in March of 2012. In other words, Mitt Romney didn't beat the drum on this major scandal because...the major scandal didn't exist in the public sphere yet. He, like nearly every other American, didn't know about it. Indeed, one purpose of the current investigations and hearings is to determine who knew what, and when.
We know for certain that the IRS' own audit flagged inappropriate targeting in May of last year, and that senior Treasury Department officials became aware of it shortly thereafter. The White House's own timeline has shifted several times in recent days, so they've been tough to pin down. We don't yet know if the president's political or campaign team knew of the IRS scandal before the election (though even some liberals are beginning to admit it's hard to believe they didn't). What's self-evident is that Republicans in Congress and the Romney campaign had no indication that this bombshell was looming and had no concrete proof that a codified political targeting program had been in place at the IRS for years. Finney's point seems to be that Republicans should have made a giant stink about a theory, without any solid substantiation. It's not difficult to imagine how Finney and her cohorts at MSNBC would have reacted if the GOP had adopted such an approach last fall. Her entire "point" here is imbecilic and purposefully disingenuous. It's one thing to try to re-write distant history. It's another to do the same with still-unfolding history. I'm not sure who she thinks she's fooling, aside from those MSNBC viewers who are eager to be fooled, but kudos for at least slipping in the "overreach" talking point. Bravo.
Today's IRS hearing featured a newsworthy flurry of activity at the very beginning, then promptly devolved into the now-familiar soup of "to the best of my recollection" evasions from former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman. Two significant facts did emerge, however -- no thanks to Shulman, who remembers nothing of note and takes responsibility for nothing, including his decision not to correct his inaccurate testimony to Congress about targeting last year. First, we discovered that the IRS' in-house review of the abusive targeting ended in the spring of 2012, months before the presidential election. Neither the public nor Congress were made aware of this probe's existence, let alone its findings:
Rep. Darrel Issa, the committee's chairman, said that the committee learned just yesterday that the IRS completed its own investigation a year before a Treasury Department Inspector General report was completed. But despite the IRS recognizing in May 2012 that its employees were treating right-wing groups differently from other organizations, Issa said, IRS personnel withheld those conclusions from legislators. 'Just yesterday the committee interviewed Holly Paz, the director of exempt organizations, rulings and agreements, division of the IRS,' Issa said. 'While a tremendous amount of attention is centered about the Inspector General's report, or investigation, the committee has learned from Ms. Paz that she in fact participated in an IRS internal investigation that concluded in May of 2012 - May 3 of 2012 - and found essentially the same thing that Mr. George found more than a year later.' 'Think about it,' he continued: 'For more than a year, the IRS knew that it had inappropriately targeted groups of Americans based on their political beliefs, and without mentioning it, and in fact without honestly answering questions that were the result of this internal investigation.'
Democratic operatives have little to do but desperately flog the "Republican overreach!" talking point, which several recent polls have debunked. An example from one DSCC shill:
Looks like NRSC isn't heeding warnings from Cook, Rothenberg, & many GOP operatives not to overreach on IRS scandal #like1998— Matt Canter (@mattcanter) May 22, 2013
UPDATE - Good questions: "Why was George, the IG, reluctant to release 'incremental information'
when the IRS itself had concluded in May 2012 that its anti-conservative
criteria for tax-exempt orgs were FUBAR? Didn’t his office specifically
say they’d keep the committee updated?" The Inspector General was bound to keep Congress up to date on his investigation. He did not, according to Issa. Why not? I say again, hmm.
Bear in mind, this statement came before Lerner refused to answer questions and left the room.